Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Bailout, Bankruptcy Or Workers' Control

Bailout, bankruptcy or workers’ control

The Big Three crisis: which way forward?

By David Sole
Published Dec 4, 2008 9:08 PM

The crisis surrounding the future of the Big Three U.S. auto manufacturers has focused on a single question–federal bailout loans or bankruptcy? The recent spectacle of the top General Motors, Ford and Chrysler executives–with the United Auto Workers’ national leadership in tow–being grilled and all but humiliated at Capitol Hill hearings revolved solely on this question.

It appears that Washington politicians, with the backing of Wall Street, are currently opposed to any sharing of the bank bailout money with the Big Three through loans or otherwise. Why? To listen to the politicians and the regimented media chorus line, they are opposed to the big bonuses of the CEOs and other top bosses of the auto companies. Plenty of attention has been given to this factor. The other issue appears to be “letting the market take its course.”

None of this can be taken for good coin. These are the very same politicians who only weeks ago willingly opened the Treasury vaults to the most overpaid, corrupt, crooked bankers, mortgage firms and insurance companies. They gave unlimited funds to the very same banking executives who precipitated the current economic collapse. You can be sure that these big shots aren’t going to accept minimum wage or a cut to their million-dollar bonuses.

So why attack this single group of business leaders now? The reason is that Wall Street and a significant section of the U.S. ruling class want to destroy the UAW.

The Big Three executives have no love for the union. They have been ruthless since the late 1970s, wresting ever-greater concessions from the UAW workers. Wage cuts, job cuts, plant closings, increased productivity and benefit cuts have been relentlessly pushed on these hardworking union members. However, the Big Three bosses also have a healthy respect for the power that the autoworkers and their union possess–even if the union hasn’t unleashed that power in recent times.

The rest of the ruling class clearly want to force the Big Three corporations into bankruptcy proceedings where they hope the court will allow the UAW contracts to be gutted. Wages could be slashed, perhaps to levels like those at American Axle, a GM spin-off that successfully cut wages by 50 percent, even after a strike lasting months last winter.

The bankruptcy threat is also being used to ensure that any federal bailout includes similar attacks on UAW retirees. That way pension funds could be looted and pensions unloaded on an already-strained federal pension “guarantee” program–which covers only a percentage of a worker’s pension and no medical benefits.

The media hammer every day about how overpaid the autoworkers are compared to most other workers. These same mouthpieces for the ruling class, however, have never supported raising the wages of non-union and underpaid workers. The ruling class is already preparing, in case the UAW tries to fight back, to divide the working class–pitting low-wage workers against higher-paid workers.

Why is the ruling class so bent on destroying the UAW and other unions? The bosses are already “having their way” with non-unionized workers. Unions in the private sector represent only about 7 to 8 percent of the workforce.

Their problem is that the UAW and the other unions could become–if they had the will and determination as well as an anti-capitalist program–a pole of attraction and a center for resistance for the broad masses of workers, the poor and even the shrinking middle class.

The big unions have buildings, networks of communications, newspapers and magazines, trained speakers, press departments and paid staffs. If the UAW or other unions decided to resist, not only to protect their own members but to fight back on behalf of all poor and working people, they could become a powerful force.

This apparatus could be turned against the bailout for the banks. And it could demand national health care, a real jobs program, a moratorium on foreclosures, and funding for education and the environment.

This is what worries the Wall Street billionaire ruling class. And it is what is driving them to move now to eliminate that possibility.

This doesn’t mean that autoworkers, their union or the wider working class should support the $25 billion loan/bailout of the Big Three as currently proposed. Handing more money to the same auto bosses who got us into this mess won’t solve the problems the auto industry faces.

These CEOs and their henchmen are overpaid and anti-union. They will continue to try to eliminate jobs and cut wages and benefits. Their only concern is maximizing profits, which is what led them to concentrate on making SUVs and trucks domestically, while shipping production of fuel-efficient cars overseas.

It was disgraceful and embarrassing to see UAW President Ron Gettelfinger tagging behind the auto bosses, begging the government to give his masters the huge funding they were seeking.

The UAW rank and file must put forward its own program and intervene independently in the current crisis. A workers’ program must start with recognizing that a job is a worker’s property right. It is the workers who built the plants, maintained the factories and machinery, and did all the work, generating enormous wealth over generations.

Worker-community control?
Yes, we can!

Since the auto bosses have brought the companies to the brink of ruin, the workers, their unions and the communities in which these factories are situated must assert their right to run the plants and replace the bloated, short-sighted executives and the big shareholders who kept them at the helm.

Worker-community control of the Big Three is the only solution. Under worker-community control, the demand for government funds to rebuild and retool the plants to make energy-efficient cars and mass transit equipment could rally wide support.

Instead of a shrinking workforce in auto, the industry could be reborn and expand–attracting a new generation of autoworkers to good-paying jobs. A worker-community-controlled auto industry would maintain it and hire the engineers and experts needed to retool the industry for the 21st century.

The unions and the workers of the Big Three must also protect the pension funds. These funds must not be allowed to be part of any bankruptcy that might occur. Workers and retirees must be prepared to intervene in the bailout and/or bankruptcy proceedings directly and militantly. If necessary, the workers and retirees might have to take possession of the assets and holdings of the Big Three–similar to the great sit-down strikes of the 1930s–in order to protect their interests.

The first task is to bring the UAW rank and file–and especially the retirees–into a mighty struggle, with demonstrations across the country and in Washington and on Wall Street. Ultimately, it is this struggle that will pose the question of which class is really qualified to rule.

Sole worked at GM’s Detroit Fleetwood plant from 1971 until the plant closed in 1987. He was a leader of the Local 15 Stop Plant Closing Committee and the national Job Is a Right Campaign. Sole is currently president of UAW Local 2334 in Detroit. He is vested in the GM pension plan.
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